I’ve been known to eat cookies in bed even though mothers tell you not to. Such a yummy food in such a cozy place is almost the perfect combination were it not for those tiny crumbs that irritate the skin more than they ought to. This time of year (before Passover) crumbs irritate the soul as well. And so we search our homes high and low to rid ourselves of them.
What’s so bad about chametz (leavened products) that we must remove them from our lives during the eight days of Pesach? The Torah tells us to not eat them or own them during the holiday since the Children of Israel only ate matza as they left Egypt. But metaphorically, chametz represent negative attributes that we must remove from characters as well. The one that speaks the most to me is chametz’s connection to laziness. Because – I’m kind of a lazy person.
How lazy you ask? Well, in the last several years, my daughter has made my bed more times than I have. (Her idea – not mine! Kids sometimes rebel. What can you do?!) During college, the few times that I ventured into the library and saw it packed with people pouring over textbooks, I was so confused. My general approach to college was: go to the least amount of class possible, do the least amount of work possible, and then cram just enough at the end to get a good grade. (Why work more than you have to?!) And every time I hear that a person is doing something like running a marathon, I think about how God creates people to be so different from one another. So very, very different. In middle school, every spring we’d have to *walk* the mile in gym class. This was always a HUGE deal in my mind. How would I manage? How would I cope? I’d whine and complain in the days leading up to it. I’d huff and puff all the way through it (yes, I KNOW that I’m a drama queen!). And every single time, once it was over, I’d end up in the nurse’s office, needing to recover from my overexertion, dehydration, and near death experience.
Why are chametz connected to laziness? There are two reasons I’ve heard. The first is that chametz (or bread) is what happens if dough lies around for too long. Let dough sit, and it will rise, thus becoming leavened. Matza, on the other hand, is the dough that is baked less than 18 minutes after the flour and water come into contact with one another. It’s the bread of action and alacrity.
When the Children of Israel were leaving Egypt, they had not a moment to waste if they were going to escape. The Egyptian culture had corrupted them so thoroughly, we are told that the Jewish people were on the forty-ninth (out of fiftieth) level of tumah (spiritual impurity). And if they tarried even the slightest bit, they would have missed their window, dropping down to the fiftieth level and thereby no longer being worthy of redemption. So when their chance to get out came – they took it. No excuses, no delays, not even a stop at the nurse’s office!
The second reason that chametz is associated with laziness is more of a cutesy idea I heard from Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz years ago in seminary. He told us to look at the way the letters are structured in Hebrew. Matza is comprised of the letters מ (mem) צ (tzadi) and ה (hey). Chametz is made up of similar letters, indicating a connection between the two. It too has a מ (mem) and צ (tzadi), but instead of a ה (hey) it has a ח (chet). If you compare the ה (hey) and the ח (chet), you’ll see that they’re very similar to one another in appearance. It’s just that the ה (hey) is missing a piece that the ח (chet) has. Why? Because it didn’t wait around long enough to get it. The matza was on the move!
Why is laziness so foreign to the Jewish ideal? Laziness is born out of the desire to be comfortable and being comfortable is not a Jewish concept. (We Jews did invent kvetching after all!) Often, people speak about their of lack of spiritual growth due to an issue of comfort. “This is where I’m comfortable,” they’ll say. Or “I’m not comfortable with that since it’s not how I was raised.”
What’s the definition of comfort? Your bed in the morning. It’s warm, it’s cozy. It’s practically irresistible. But Judaism isn’t about comfort – it’s about pleasure. What’s pleasure? Yanking yourself out of that bed, going out into the world, working hard, and achieving. That is pleasure and that is the Jewish way.
And speaking of getting up and on the move, it’s time I did some Pesach cleaning myself. Hmmm…where to start, where to start…my bed?